December 27, 2007
By CYRUS LEVESQUE
BRISTOL — The Mount Abraham Union School Board is considering a first draft of a 2008-2009 budget plan that proposes a 7.03 percent increase in spending to $12,999,836, but officials say the actual impact on taxes would be much smaller.
Some of the proposed spending increase can be attributed to the fact that Addison Northeast Supervisory Union changed how it bills the cost of busing. In an “apples to apples” comparison, the increase is a little less than 4 percent, according to district business manager Greg Burdick.
Students in Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro ride the same buses whether in high school or the elementary schools of each town, and until now the costs of busing have appeared in the spending plans of the respective elementary schools. However, a new law requires school districts to distinguish between spending on elementary school and secondary school.
“Act 130’s basic thrust is to distinguish between K-6 education and 7-12 education,” Burdick said. So the transportation budget for the high school more than tripled, from $148,071 in the 2007-2008 budget to $499,114 in this draft of the 2008-09 spending plan. But nearly all of that increase had appeared in the elementary schools’ budgets in the past, and Burdick said that the transportation expenses for those schools will show corresponding decreases.
At a Dec. 18 meeting, school board members said they had given the supervisory union a goal of creating a budget with an increase of 3 percent or less at a previous meeting, so they asked Burdick to cut roughly another 1 percent, about $130,000, from the draft of the budget by the board’s next meeting, on Jan. 8, 2008.
Various board members had suggestions for areas to cut, including the activity bus, which runs later than the usual school bus to accommodate students who are staying after school for clubs or some sports.
Board member Chris Brady suggested cuts to the Horizons department, which includes the counseling program, supervision of independent studies, the Eagles Program and several other services. With the budget draft showing expenditures of $632,568 for Horizons Counseling and $317,643 for Horizons Personalized Learning, Brady believed that cuts could probably be made in the department.
Principal Paulette Bogan said at last week’s school board meeting that she and Burdick would try to find what else could be cut, but there probably won’t be any easy answers.
“There will be disadvantages no matter what we do,” Bogan said.
Other than the change to how the district accounts for transportation costs, the rest of the budget proposal contains few surprises. As is often the case, salaries and benefits make up a big chunk of the increase. Burdick’s draft of the budget estimated an increase of about $399,502 in salaries and benefits, more than three quarters of the non-transportation increase.
The likely increase to salaries and benefits for teachers is more uncertain than usual, though, because the school board and teacher’s union are in negotiations for a new contract. The school’s teachers have been working without a contract since the summer, and the negotiating committee is awaiting the results of a fact-finding report, due in early January. Burdick declined to say the exact salary increase he used to figure the budget because he didn’t want that to affect contract negotiations.
Noting that the student population is falling, Bogan said that they plan to cut full-time employee positions from each of the English, science and social studies departments, and add one full-time employee in the math department.
A number of expenses were moved around within the budget, making direct comparisons to last year difficult. For example, the Living Skills line item increased from $5,325 to $73,454, but Burdick said that was mostly due to a staff member being moved from the Special Education budget to the department where he said the staffer is a better fit.
Also at the meeting, the board discussed a budget issue of a more long-term nature: an alternate way to pay for the new electrical transformer that the district voted to borrow $125,000 for at a meeting on Nov. 27. Burdick estimated, based on his “crystal ball,” that the current year would likely run a surplus of about $200,000, about two percent of the current year’s budget.
However, Superintendent Evelyn Howard suggested that part of that money could be used to pay down part of the five-year note for the transformer.
No formal decision was made at last week’s meeting, but the board seemed open to the proposal. In order to do so, the district members will have to vote at their school district meetings in five district towns in March to apply part of the surplus to the five-year note instead of the school taxes for the coming year, where a surplus would normally go by default.